The Jesus Rolls Full Movie Review -“Nobody f***s with the Jesus,” John Turturro’s Puerto Rican bowling champion Jesus Quintana purrs in 1998’s The Big Lebowski. His catchphrase comes with a handful of distinctive traits: he always gives his ball a few sensuous licks before rolling it; his pinky finger is adorned with a claw-like, purple-toned nail; and he’s a registered sex offender. He’s just one of the many oddballs that colour Lebowski’s world – a competitive, aggressive creep parachuted in to challenge the Dude’s stoner philosophy.
But in The Jesus Rolls, Turturro has handed him a life of his own. With the Coen Brothers’ blessing (although, notably, not their contribution), he’s commanded the role of writer, director, and star for a spin-off sequel that treats any reference to the original as a tiresome chore. “Nobody f**ks with the Jesus” is mentioned twice, but only in the first 10 minutes, and there’s only a cursory acknowledgement of the world of bowling. At one point, he repeats his Big Lebowski threat of shoving a gun up someone’s backside and pulling the trigger.
True, he’s still got the hairnet and the cocky strut, but the character’s otherwise undergone a personality makeover. Turturro seems determined to craft his own kind of Lebowski – an old-world, free-love vagabond facing the slow and grinding extinction of his kind. He even tries to explain away the criminal charge that led Walter to label him as a “pervert” and “paederast” back in the Nineties. It was all just a big misunderstanding, apparently. Yet no amount of added context can override the feeling that the Jesus was never meant to be more than a one-joke character. It’s harder still to erase the fact that he’s a Puerto Rican stereotype played by an Italian-American.
Still, Turturro gamely paints his own tableau of miscreants and mavericks. The film opens with the Jesus’ release from Sing Sing, a correctional facility in upstate New York. He’s picked up by Petey (Bobby Cannavale), his comrade-in-arms, and the pair immediately set out for a joyride in a vintage car belonging to a bigheaded local hairdresser (Jon Hamm). To add insult to injury, the guy’s girlfriend Marie (Audrey Tatou) decides to join them. Everyone here seems locked in a competition to see who can scream and gesture the loudest – to the point that Turturro’s performance seems relatively subdued in comparison.
This is his sixth feature to date as a director, though his work – from Romance and Cigarettes to Fading Gigolo – has always been difficult to categorise, beyond exuding a vague air of wistful romanticism. Here, he ends up with an unexpected cocktail of influences: it’s both a Coen Brothers tribute act and a modern reworking of Bertrand Blier’s 1974 film Going Places, including the novel that inspired it. The film, about two goatish crooks who steal cars, commit petty crimes, and treat women like walking orifices, remains one of the most controversial French films ever made.
Turturro cranks the depravity down, but straight objectification is replaced with a kind of strange, pseudo-religious worship. Marie is the ideal manic pixie dream girl. She’s never orgasmed before, so sex can be an entirely one-sided contract. The Jesus and Petey later cross paths with Jean (Susan Sarandon). Recently out of prison, she’s both wide-eyed and soulful. They offer her cash, a gun, and a seafood lunch. “I can only thank you in bed,” she coos in return. The men gallantly oblige. It’s strange to watch a walking punchline transformed into some kind of romantic, tragic antihero. It’s true: no one should have f**ked with the Jesus.